26 January, 2009

Why I don't play the newer games.

Nearly a month ago, at New Years day, I was shopping for a good wireless USB laser mouse. I came across a computer supply store next to a video game store whose owner was kind enough to fix up my PSX a while back. He was quite amazed by how uninterested in the newer games I am compared to the ones released in the last decade. He asked this question which followed me around for days. 

"Don't you ever get bored of the old games? Why don't you play the newer games?"

While I did initially gave him the answer involving the rise of DRM that screw over legitimate customers. There is a lot more to it than that, which I will get into.

The biggest aspect I saw in games released nowadays is that they tend to be uncreative and homologous in design. Often when I see a new upcoming game release, I think that it is just a game from another franchise, just with this franchise's grille slapped all over it and with a graphics makeover. The biggest offenders I saw of this example is Fallout 3/Oblivion and Dead Space/System Shock 2. While I have no problems with a game franchise taking a successful formula from another and assimilating it into its own, it is very often done with very little consideration as to how the franchise's signature feature would translate into the new formulae. Sometimes, this would result in intrinsic gameplay elements turning into a clunky unnecessary gimmick.

There's even some franchises that are just plain generic, like Halo, that simply does a good job of repeating the same features other games of the same genre has while adding a couple of gimmicky new features that are done not out of genuine creativity, but because of creative laziness. You see the regenerating shield power in the Halo games? Well that is because the map designers are so inept, they couldn't even properly decide where the health pickups should be, if the bland level design in the campaign mode isn't telling enough.

Even within its own franchise, it seems that the people in charge of it aren't even trying any more to keep it fresh and interesting in each release. It could be due to a change of hands, like in the case of the System Shock and Painkiller series. (Bioshock is merely a graphical and mood upgrade to SS2 and Painkiller : Overdose is simply an expansion pack of the original, but with a half-demon and a lame collection of one-liners.) More often than not though, the companies who own the franchises just got lazy. Nintendo and EA Sports are the biggest offenders of them all, every single one of their franchises' current instalment is simply the previous instalment but with updated graphics, not-so-original new content and lame gimmicks slapped on top of it that add nothing to the overall gameplay experience. Some franchises, like the Sonic series, eventually and ultimately cocked itself up due to this. It's all a big sellout.

Speaking of which, why haven't the fad of movie-to-game adaptations gone extinct yet? So far, only two games, in a sea of sad pathetic attempts, has ever been successful in adapting a movie into a game, and that is Batman Returns for the SNES and that Final Fight game based on the horrible movie for the Neo Geo. Yet, we keep seeing game companies today attempting to translate movies to video games and failing because too much effort is spent perfecting that one gimmick that appeared in the movie without any consideration to the plot of the movie, the logic of the movie, or even making the game fun to play. The Matrix games are the prime example of poor movie to game translations. The reasons why Batman Returns is successful and the Matrix games failed are quite numerous, but to cite the biggest ones, Batman Returns did a really good balance between faithfulness to the movie plot and a solid gameplay mechanic while the Matrix games did not, Batman Returns made the franchise signature features a useful part of the gameplay (Batarang, knocking thugs' heads together etc.) while the Matrix games just slapped them on as a useless gimmick and while they both borrowed formulas from well-established gameplay archetypes, Batman Returns executed them very well while the Matrix games just cocked them up.

So, where am I going with this? You may ask. Well see, I noticed these problems popping up and becoming more prominent as the game industry matured and aged on. Even the FPS genre, which came a bit later than other genres of games to blossom into a beautiful rose of blood and guts, have already shown signs of creative decay. I remember the 8 & 16-bit era, and even the Playstation/Saturn/N64 era, how every other game is an A+ experience while most of the rest are pretty enjoyable even if they weren't the cream of the crop. You may think that I am putting on nostalgia glasses, but you know what? Fuck you, you're wrong. I am perfectly capable of telling whether or not a game has aged well. I have no problem in admitting that there are a lot of crappy games in that era, as long as it is recognized that they are greatly outnumbered by good games that have withstood the test of time.

So with the game industry slowly resigning its fate to creative bankruptcy and releasing games of mediocre quality and lazy design, one has to wonder how it became that way. However, with a brief primer on the history of video games, a picture starts to form in one's head that could tell them what had happened to cause it to degenerate so much. It's pretty simple, when Nintendo rebooted the industry with the NES or Famicom, everyone wanted in on it because it is like the promised land for aspiring programmers, but they kept in mind the importance of releasing a quality product. So they did for a while, some failed and died off, some took the world by storm and some even got lost in the zen of their own projects. That is all good, for us gamers at least. Ever wondered why the rivalry between Genesis/MD and SNES/Super Famicom owners was so intense? It is because both systems had so much awesome games, it was a neck-to-neck race of how many quality titles for each system we could add to our collection. Then some company made a game, it was a pretty mediocre one compared to previous instalments in terms of gameplay, but it was the first in the franchise to have unprecedented graphical features. The game took the world by storm, and the reaction was so positive that it forced the whole video gaming industry into the spotlight of mainstream entertainment. This can not be good, not only because it gave developers the false impression that they can make bad games and still turn a profit as long as it has a famous franchise label, but because it also left the door wide open to companies from other areas of the mainstream entertainment industry, companies who had no experience making, marketing and selling games and only cared about making a quick buck, to infest. (This is probably why movie to game adaptations still exist. You've seen what that did to the Atari-era video game industry.) This philosophy of turning a quick penny without consideration for customer satisfaction slowly took hold of the video game industry, slowly eating away at its integrity ; games began to suffer greatly from it. Then, it got to the point where companies feel justified in treating their customers like criminals, as seen by the ever-increasingly draconian DRM measures being employed in games and here we are today.

Of course, there are exceptions ; All throughout this post, I have been tarring the entire industry with a very large brush using very wide strokes and up until now, I have failed to mention Valve. Valve has my respect for being pretty much the only video game development company to continuously try new things with their franchises and doing so successfully, while being opposed to the ridiculously draconian DRM measures, like SecuROM, employed in newer games as well as being actively in support of modding projects involving their games. On numerous occasions, I have had fellow gamers ask me if Valve is the only developer to try new things with their games, and I am very much inclined to say yes as I could not think of any other company acting alike.

So here is what I think of the video game industry today. Hopefully my voice will reach someone in the industry who can, would and will make a difference for the better.

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit I am a sucker for the Halo series, it was my first FPS and, hell I don't know. That and Gears of War are the only somewhat serious FPS games that I play. Though I'm not very impressed with some the games that have been coming out.

    It just seems like more the same-old same-old to me, and I have come to the conclusion that there are older games I own that I enjoy more than some I've tried nowadays. Hell I still break out my N64 and SNES. Games haven't quite been delivering what is promised much nowadays. And the DRM shit is a serious pain in the ass too.

    I think my biggest let down recently was the Spore game. Absolutely nothing like what was presented a couple years ago. There is also a bullshit creature parts pack that should've been a damn game patch, not something I have to buy. I know any good gameplay additions are going to come as expansions, but I suppose that's expected from a game released under EA games. I kept the game, but I mostly don't play the actual story line and I use the vehicle, building and creature editors.

    I do thoroughly enjoy stuff from Valve though. If only I had the money I would get more games off of Steam. :( I've been wanting TF2 and other things for a good while now.